Eggs of the sea urchins Arbacia punctulata (Ap), Lytechinus pictus (Lp), and Strongylocentrotus purpuratus (Sp) were labeled to equilibrium with 32PO3-4. Approximately 65-70% of the label in extractable adenine nucleotides comigrates chromatographically with ATP. Autoradiograms of one-dimensional sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) slab gels show that each species possesses a distinct complement of phosphate-exchangeable phosphoproteins. No changes in the phosphoprotein composition are detected in Lp and Sp eggs as a result of fertilization or development for 2.5 hr (with the possible exception of a 43,000 Mr protein in Lp). In Ap, increases in the phosphorylation of bands at Mr's 30,000, 55,000, and 105,000 are seen during the first 10 min postinsemination. The 30,000 Mr band in Ap eggs has previously been identified as ribosomal protein S6 and the hypothesis presented that its increased phosphorylation may be an important step in the activation of protein synthesis at fertilization (D. G. Ballinger and T. Hunt, 1981, Dev. Biol. 87, 277-285). In Lp and Sp eggs S6 (identified by two-dimensional PAGE) is heavily phosphorylated in the unfertilized state and the extent of labeling does not increase after fertilization. If the increased phosphorylation of S6 seen in Ap is indeed related to translational activation, then these results suggest that different sea urchin species may rely on different mechanisms for the activation of protein synthesis.